This year, the Hockey Canada Skills Academy at Saint-François Xavier Catholic High School in Sarnia, Ont., had three hockey beginners – a player in Grade 8 (Joseph Glysinski), a player in Grade 7 (Anna Esztegar) and a goaltender, also in Grade 7 (Jeremy Gibbs).
Since our HCSA began in September 2015, it was the first time we had students who had never played hockey or even skated before signing up for our program! It was quite a challenge that awaited all of us … the students who were beginners and the coaches (myself as a coach for the players and my colleague, Mark Phillips, who is a goaltending coach).
We had one simple, yet daunting question: Where to begin? It turned out to not be too complicated, since I spent most of our first session sprawling around the ice with our rookies. Their beginnings looked more like a scene from Bambi than an actual hockey session! But our young rookies quickly got caught hockey fever, and their progress was astounding. With a smile on their faces, they put in tremendous amounts of effort and were able to make miracles on ice happen.
We ran the Hockey Canada baseline testing three times throughout our season, which lasted from September to January. The results were surprising – in September, Anna completed the agility weave with puck exercise in 66 seconds, but in January, she was able to do it in 21 seconds. For Joseph, in November he completed the transitions test in 71 seconds, and come January, he was almost 40 seconds faster. Early in the season, Jeremy was not able to do the iron cross. In the end, he held his own when compared to other goalies his age.
“Participating in the Academy motivates me to come to school,” says Joseph, who has been surprised to see how much progress he made as a hockey player while having fun. “Plus, it helps me relax mentally.” Recently, he joined our school’s elementary hockey team, has taken part in a tournament and played several local games.
“It’s important to stay active and learn to play sports,” says Anna. “I’ve had a lot of support from the Academy, who helped me achieve something that was completely new to me.”
I have to admit, for two coaches used to working with teams playing competitive hockey in Sarnia, it was one of the most rewarding experiences we have gone through since we became involved with minor hockey!